Our latest ‘My Favourite Indie’ comes from David Keenan, author of This Is Memorial Device, a Telegraph and Rough Trade Book of the Year and winner of the Collyer Bristow Prize for a Debut Novel. His second novel For The Good Times is publishing this week and is already receiving rave reviews with the Sunday Times hailing it as ‘one of the most strikingly written novels [I have read] for a long time’. Here, the author recalls how a visit to Forbidden Planet with his father as a child was significant in opening up a whole new world to him and how comic books have influenced his writing today.
Enter David Keenan, all words his own:
I first heard of the original Forbidden Planet in London through seeing those early iconic advertisements in places like 2000 AD and Warrior featuring art by Brian Bolland, with a bunch of serious alien punks and freaks hanging at what looked like the coolest comics emporium in the galaxy.
As a kid, I was a comics and sci-fi nut. 2000 AD blew my mind; Brian Bolland, who drew the Judge Dredd strip, was my favourite artist, alongside Mike McMahon (especially McMahon’s work on Sláine). But my comics and sci-fi fix was limited to whatever my gran bought me on Sundays (Star-Lord/Battle Action; I can still smell the cupboard they were kept in) and whatever John Menzies in Airdrie happened to be randomly stocking (Starburst/Fantastic Films/Starlog/Warrior). Occasionally my dad would drive me into Glasgow where I would visit Future Shock on Woodlands Road, but I always hated the guy who ran it and when he accused me of shoplifting one day (I hadn’t even done it) my dad went in and threatened to kill him, so I could never go in there again.
Our first trip to London was so amazing. My dad played virtual golf in Lilywhites in Piccadilly Circus and it is now a holy place to me and I can’t visit Piccadilly Circus without remembering us doing that. I ate my first Big Mac while sitting on the upper storey of an open top bus and felt like Nero. And then my dad took me and my brother to Forbidden Planet for the first time.
There’s nothing like the feel of that original FP; the smell of damp paper and magazine gloss; the wooden crates with the paint peeling off them; the walls of lurid comic book covers; the cool t-shirts; the cardboard boxes everywhere; the piles of classic sci-fi paperbacks; the cool hippies hanging around talking about Alien. A banner on the wall read: ‘Reality is for People Who Can’t Handle Science Fiction.’ I had found my first spiritual home.
From 2000 AD I graduated onto things like Hate and Love and Rockets. Love and Rockets was a secret inspiration for This is Memorial Device, I think, by which I mean the Maggie & Hopey stories, in particular, although I wasn’t conscious of it at the time.
From there I got into the underground shit like Crumb and Weirdo and from there into wild shit like Charles Burns, whose Black Hole is one of my all-time favourite comics, a weird supernatural parallel worlds body-horror teen coming of age nightmare masterpiece. And Palookaville, too, by Seth, who is probably my favourite cartoonist next to Jack Kirby.
I got into Kirby through his amazing work on Fantastic Four but it was his New Gods that was the biggest influence on the comic strip sections of my own novel, For The Good Times. It is pure visual overload and I think I get my love for Biblical cadence and Kabbalistic exegesis from the mad speech bubbles in this, Kirby’s masterpiece.
I still love to visit Forbidden Planet, it’s a comfort to me, always, that space, that safe geek space, which is a space inside of me, too.
For The Good Times by David Keenan is available here.